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Editorial by CEPAR Professor of Practice Philip O’Keefe


Author: Philip (Pip) O'Keefe, Professor of Practice and Director of the Ageing Asia Research Hub at CEPAR's UNSW Business School node

Three demographic developments in Asia have recently attracted global attention. First, China announced that its total population shrank in 2022, initiating a steady decline that will see the country’s population almost halve by the century’s end. Second, 2023 is the year when India is projected to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation. And third, Korea’s fertility rate in 2022 fell to 0.78, the lowest of any major economy globally. The headlines highlight the importance and strategic significance of population dynamics in the Asian region.

The world has long been aware of the aged population of Japan, but less attention has been paid to the rapid pace of ageing of its neighbours, including China, Korea, Thailand and Singapore. Also in younger Asian countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia a phase of rapid population ageing is underway. Even in India which will continue to see total population growth for several decades, fertility has now fallen below replacement and the share of older people will increase sharply in coming years. Overall, by 2050 there will be around 1.3 billion people aged 60 and over in Asia, an increase of almost 700 million from today. On the flipside, China alone will have around 200 million fewer people of working age by 2050.

Whatever their stage of demographic transition, emerging Asian economies share common features: that ageing is rapid (typically 20-25 year transitions from ageing to aged societies), at much lower income levels than witnessed in OECD and most former eastern bloc countries, and is happening with less developed social security systems. In response, countries are scrambling to develop or reorient their policy frameworks to navigate societal ageing, including in labour markets, pension and social protection systems, healthcare and long-term care, and age-ready cities.

The Ageing Asia Research Hub, hosted by CEPAR’s UNSW Business School node,  aims to enhance knowledge and understanding of the causes and implications of demographic change throughout the Asian region, and to inform policy formulation and practice innovation to navigate societal ageing. Its research and engagement remit includes all Asian countries, with a primary focus on China, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, and with a strong emphasis on collaboration with researchers in Asia. The recent Ageing Asia Research Hub brochure provides an introduction to Hub researchers and its main research lines of Healthy Ageing, Resources and Financial Protection at Older Ages, Aged Care Needs and Services, Mature Labour Force and Societal Ageing, and Macroeconomic and Fiscal Implications of Demographic Transition. Some recent research publications and activities of Ageing Asia Research Hub team members are featured in the newsletter.

Philip (Pip) O'Keefe is Professor of Practice and Director of the Ageing Asia Research Hub, hosted by CEPAR’s UNSW Business School node. Prior to joining CEPAR, he worked at the World Bank, most recently as Practice Manager for Social Protection and Jobs for the East-Asia-Pacific region.

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